Space is the only vantage point from which one to see the entire Earth and observe it to a satisfactory degree of detail. Satellites are able to continuously observe and examine extensive areas of the natural environment and show the impact that human activities have on land, oceans and the atmosphere. Earth Observation data therefore serves as an important basis for decision-making in the area of environmental protection, climate, land use, the monitoring of coastlines, disaster management and sustainable development. Today, the benefits of Earth Observation to society, the economy and science are abundantly clear.
The ESA's Earth Observation programmes focus on the following main areas: the development of science missions (Earth Explorer missions), the construction of satellites and instruments for meteorological monitoring missions (in partnership with EUMETSAT) as well as the development of the space component for the EU’s Copernicus programme (formerly Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, GMES). In addition, ESA develops dedicated missions and carries out various activities to help maintain Europe’s independent capability for operational Earth Observation. The ESA Climate Change Initiative (CCI) contributes time series data captured by satellites to the world-wide datasets of essential climate variables, and thus contributes to the objectives of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). Further, ESA receives and provides Earth Observation data from numerous national and international missions. Besides promoting the development of satellites and instruments, ESA also supports the scientific analysis of data and the development of associated products and services.
A large number of Swiss companies, universities, research centres and organisations are involved in ESA's Earth Observation programmes. Swiss participation in these programmes is mainly intended to facilitate the acquisition of technological and industrial competencies needed to manufacture sensors and other instruments. Swiss participation should also encourage the development of applications and the operational use of Earth Observation data.